Steve Kean, we meet for the first time

I’m looking forward to this, I’m sure it was Steve Kean that rang me that day and told me to stay out of his way. Hopefully I can show him what I’m made of, Moscovites aren’t easily intimidated I tell you that much! We meet Sarawak away in my first away game as Penang manager.

I try and play down the importance of this game to the team and tell them the pressure is all on Sarawak, which it is in a way. The team respond negatively, maybe this is their way of saying they’re not on board with me just yet.

We start well enough but after 7 minutes they take the lead with an absolute worldie of an overhead kick. The ball got crossed in and somehow Gonzales, with his back to goal hit the ball with a perfect connection and the ball went in. Not going to lie, it was an absolute peach of a goal.

I tell the team to press forward, and press we did. We’re camped in the Sarawak half for the next ten minutes but from a shot of ours inside the area they get us on the break. Their winger plays a delightful ball over the top of our defence which finds Roskam unmarked, he doesn’t even take a touch and places the ball to our keepers left, 2-0. Not good at all.

Despite being the better team overall we then found ourselves 3 down. We gave away a dubious penalty. At first showing it looked like a dive but the ref gave the penalty. If it wasn’t game over at the half it definitely was now. We just didn’t have an answer for them from then on and it was damage limitations really, Sarawak were comfortable.

At the full time whistle I turned and saw that smug twat walking towards me, I can see his shit eating grin a mile away

‘I told you not to cross me laddie’

‘Piss off. We were all over your lot, you just took your chances. I’ll have you next time’

‘Shut up youngster, you’re not cut out for this. You keep on worrying about relegation, I’ll worry about getting my team promoted’

The arrogance on that guy. His team are in the same situation as mine, I don’t know who he thinks he is. I’ll have the last laugh Steve, mark my words.

The next day I’m sat in my office when the phone rings

‘Hello’

A soft toned male voice speaks ‘Dmitri, a word of advice’

‘Not this again. Steve I aren’t playing these stupid games, you won the match move on, I’ll beat you next time’

‘Steve? No this isn’t Steve’

‘Then who is it?’

‘A friend. Listen, you’re going to need to make some signings in this transfer window if you’re going to have any chance of staying up. I’ve made the calls already, you just need to agree terms’

‘Sorry what? Made the calls? Terms? With who?!?’

‘You need a striker, I’ve text you the agent of Jerome Katende’s number, call him he’s ready to join you.’

‘Eh, what?!? Isn’t that classed as tapping up?’

‘No. Just do it. You also need a keeper. Carlos Espinoza is on his way to the training ground, he should be there soon, he’s also ready to discuss a deal. You can thank me later’

‘What the hell are you talking about? I’ve got a keeper, and a striker…’

‘A keeper that’s conceded 30 goals already, and a striker that couldn’t score in a brothel. Speak to these 2, you won’t regret it’ Click. He hung up, whoever he was. Did I just dream this?!

Just then there was a knock at the door

‘Come in’

‘Dmitri, there’s a tall guy here saying he has a 10 o’ clock with you, he says his name is Carlos’ the clubs press officer Phoebe says

‘Yes, erm let him in, is he alone?’

‘Yes he is, just got a bottle of water with him’

‘Thanks Phoebe’

Carlos walks in with a confident demeanour. He looks me in the eye and speaks perfect English

‘Hey boss, thanks for the opportunity. I’ll be brief, I want a 1 year deal, first team status, optional extension if we go up’

‘Well you clearly are a man that knows what he wants. How do I know you’re the player I need?’

‘Trust me boss, I am. I’ll win this club points on my own’

‘Okay, you’re on’

He walks back out of the office, to his car I assume. Surely this can’t be how a football manager signs players?? My phone vibrated and a text came through:

Here’s that number I told you to ring. He’s expecting your call, don’t prat around. You’re welcome

Well I might as well ring that number.

A couple of rings and a voice answered, ‘Hello?’

‘Erm, hi, this is Dimitri Tarasov, Penang manager…’

‘Yes yes I know who you are. Right as you’re aware from our previous conversations Jerome is happy to sign a 1 year deal with you and he will expect to play at least 80% of games, he wants a minimum fee release clause but as we both know, he will score the goals to keep your team up this year and will help propel you into the Super League next year so there’s a very small chance of him leaving. Email me the contract and we will sign and send back this afternoon. Bye for now.’

Wow, that was even less brief than my meeting with apparently my new number 1 goalkeeper. I knew football management was a strange gig but this is something else. Just who was it that set these meetings up? Hopefully I’ll find out, or maybe it’s best that I don’t? Anyway we’ve got a big game against Sabah coming up and we need continue our push towards survival

As with all our previous games, we’re setting up with the 4-4-1-1 and same 11 that has started the last 3 games. I tell the team to give the fans their money’s worth, but inside I’m just praying for a win and a good performance. I’m nervous, this could go drastically wrong.

We start off well, we move the ball around quickly and look threatening going forward. Around the 26 minute point they get a yellow card as Muhimian gives away a foul. Nothing comes of the free kick and the game continues when minutes later they receive another yellow card, this time Lokman is booked for another foul. Play continues then stops almost straight away as Mustakim is booked for a foul, their third yellow in as many minutes. Then as if their players were trying to 1 up each other, Salleh goes in from behind on Raduwan who breaks free, and as Salleh is the last man he’s given a straight red card. This could be our chance to take the game away from them. We have the ball out wide which got crossed in before being cleared. Then a moment of pure madness as Lokman, who was booked no less than 5 minutes ago brings down Seung-Jo to receive his second yellow card and his teams second red! This is going to be our day there’s no doubt about it. From the kick off we press on and finally take the lead as Raduwan hits a curling shot from inside the area. Right on half time we add a second to effectively kill the game off.

In my half time team talk I’m conflicted. Part of me wants to make a couple of subs and keep some players fresh for the remaining games in our survival battle as this game is as good as over. But the other side of me wants to send on another striker and try and grab a few more goals to improve our goal difference. I go with the latter and put 2 up front, Nyassi playing as an advanced forward and the midfield has been moved around. Not long after the restart Sabah are given another yellow, Junimin given a yellow for constantly fouling. 5 more minutes later and they are down to 8 men as Junimin is given a second yellow card to go with the 1 he literally just picked up, this could end up a cricket score! We just kept the ball and pressing on with confidence, plenty of chances came and the game ended with us as 6-0 winners. The main thing was getting as many goals as we can in this one as this kind of opportunity might not present itself again.

With that victory it leaves us with 4 games to go, and our run in consists of Felcra who are 1 point below us in 11th, a must win game. MIFA who are 3 points and 3 places above us in 7th, again a game I see as must win. Felda United who are top of the league and unless anything catastrophic happens will be promoted, so a game in which we’ll be lucky to get anything from. Finally we’re away to Johor’s B team on the last day. They are currently 4th in the league, and all being well we would’ve had survival wrapped up by then, but I’m not getting ahead of myself here, there may only be 4 games left but that is a lot of football to play.

‘How do you think it’ll go, the relegation fight I mean?’

‘Are you asking me, or asking me to ask Karupiah?’ the player liaison officer & translator asks

‘Oh yeah sorry, he doesn’t speak English. Well give me your opinion first’

‘Well, we can definitely get something out of the Felcra and Mifa games boss, I’m sure we can’ says Mohd Sukri, the player liaison officer

‘Yeah, and what about Felda & Johor?

‘Honestly, I think the best we can hope for is that Felda have already got promotion sorted by the time they play us, and Johor have an off day. They’re both much better than us’

‘I know, well we can try. See what he says’

A minute or 2 passes by as Mohd speaks in Malay to Karupiah.

‘He says we’re screwed’

Ever the optimist

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Next episode – A call to arms

Previous episode – The first game

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